Superman Unchained #4 is another notch in the argument that DC should make this series either Action Comics or the Superman title. Since the launch of the New 52, both long running titles have stumbled over their stories. It seemed that Superman’s most dangerous enemy – irrelevance – had finally come to claim him. Enter Batman scribe Scott Snyder, and all that changes. Superman Unchained is superb, not just as a Superman tale, but as an example of strong comic book writing.
Superman is in the middle of complete chaos. Some of this madness he can see, but some it is sneaking up on him. Issue #4 opens with Lex Luthor, who has recently captured Superman’s pal Jimmy Olsen. While lecturing Olsen on Superman’s impending doom, Luthor ties it into origami, which helps to make Luthor seem creepier than ever. Meanwhile, Superman and Wraith, a creature with his exact powers who landed on Earth 75 years ago, are battling robots programmed to kill Superman. Ironically, a group named Ascension, who are anti-technology, sent them.
While Superman and Wraith battle the flying robots of doom, Lois Lane is in a predicament of her own. Ascension has crashed her plane. All would have been lost if not for a strange blind man carrying a shard that looks exactly like one from Superman’s Fortress of Solitude. According to the dying blind man, this shard is the key to everything. Lois springs into action, only to be knocked out and taken prisoner by Ascension. Turns out the man behind the terrorist group is a lot closer to Lois Lane than she’d like. Oh, did I forget to mention that, while torturing Olsen via some machine, Luthor tells Superman’s pal that he, Olsen, will be the one to kill Superman?
If Superman Unchained was a cake, it would be a layer cake. Snyder’s inherent ability with storytelling is in exceptional form here. While so many fail to understand what makes Superman so enduring, Snyder understands it fully. Superman always wants to do the right thing. He wants to bring justice and good to all side of an equation. The struggle to do that is the core of Superman Unchained. Even the Man of Steel can’t do everything. As he tries to understand Wraith and save lives threatened by Ascension, his best friend and a woman he cares for are in mortal danger. To top it all off, his worst enemy seems to be completely unhinged.
Snyder creates excitement in the story. He leaves Superman out of it in an odd way. There is no “writing” Superman, his character is too reactionary. To make a story work, Superman must be dealing with the world around him. The more chaos and drama injected in the script, the more Superman has to do. Snyder balances that perfectly, and Superman Unchained is the result.
Helping make this series so good is a bit of the Jim Lee artwork. The man can’t draw poorly, he just doesn’t have it in him. The line work is perfect, the details are wonderfully executed. Lee has a unique way with character faces, his details are perfect, and the man brings action like nobody else. There’s as much poetry in Jim Lee’s art as there is in Scott Snyder’s words.
Superman Unchained is unquestionably the new bar by which all Superman stories should be told going forward. Snyder and Lee have reinvigorated not just the Man of Steel, but also his supporting cast. A knockout series across the board.
(4.5 Story, 4.5 Art)